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NQTs – Put your Wellbeing First

As a newly qualified teacher, start as you mean to go on and make sure you don't run out of charge, says Steph Caswell. Here’s how to do it...

  • NQTs – Put your Wellbeing First

If I were to ask you how often you check the percentage of battery life on your mobile phone, what would you say? Twice a day? Three times? And what happens when it gets too low?

Panic sets in for most of us. We scrabble about looking for a charger, desperate not to be cut off from the world. We ask friends and colleagues if they have spares.

At the airport the other day, I saw someone offer to plug a stranger’s phone into his laptop, just so he had enough battery life.

Phones are programmed to look after themselves too. When the battery gets too low, it goes into energy-saving mode. It looks after itself; it puts its needs first.

It doesn’t care whether you’re relying on it for the latest footy score or that long-awaited message from a friend; if it’s out of energy, it goes to sleep.

Now think about often you check in on your wellbeing each day, on your ‘battery life’. When you’re lacking in energy, do you have an energy-saving mode? Do you put your needs first? Your phone does, so why don’t you?

Now, clearly we are a lot more complex than a mobile phone, but recent statistics would suggest that, as a profession, we’re not great at putting our needs first.

We keep trying to work at 100% of our battery life, even when we’re at 5%. There’s no ‘mode’ that automatically switches on.

Earlier this year, a report by the Guardian newspaper said that 40% of teachers wanted to leave the profession by 2024. Most cited high levels of stress and unrealistic workload as the primary reason.

What was once a ‘career for life’ is now turning into ‘a career for a short few years before you burnout, disheartened and exhausted’. Funnily enough, that doesn’t seem to appear as the tagline for ITT courses.

But does it have to be this way? Is teacher wellbeing so low down on everyone’s agenda that we’re losing talented, enthusiastic teachers by the truckload? Not necessarily.

Increasingly, schools are making the necessary changes to ensure that they look after their teachers, but it’s not happening everywhere. So, who needs to take responsibility? The answer is… you.

You’re a newly qualified teacher. Frankly, you’re in the best position. Why? Because you can start as you mean to go on. You have to be the one to put your wellbeing first. You have to take control.

So let’s look at how you can do that.

Practise good time management

Much of the stress experienced in teaching comes from poor time management. The scales for work-life balance seem to tip heavily in one direction, so how can we redress the balance?

One way is to plan out the weeks and days in advance. Create a blank grid with the non-teaching times you have before, during and after school for the week ahead and, using a to-do list, decide what needs to be done and when.

Put them in order of importance. Decide what, if anything, can be delegated. Put the tasks in your weekly grid and tick them off as you complete them.

Practise self-discipline

In order to look after your wellbeing, you need to develop self-discipline. From deciding on a time to leave school each day to learning to say ‘no’, understanding the merits of self-discipline can help bring your teaching life from a sense of chaos to a sense of order.

Develop good routines that you stick to. Why not decide in advance, two days of the week ahead that you’re going to stay late and two days that you’re going to be heading out the door at five o’clock? Keep one day free and you’ll have the flexibility to either stay or go, depending on your workload.

Practise wellbeing management

Part of this new, self-disciplined you must plan in time to do things you love. Things you enjoy. If you don’t, you’re in danger of letting work take over your life. Soon you’ll feel as though you never do anything enjoyable any more.

Get your diary out and book in some activities you enjoy. From seeing friends to going to your favourite exercise class, you have plenty of options.

Ring-fence your time at the weekends too – if you have to do school work, don’t let it take over. Set a timer to get your work done. As soon as it rings, put the books down and step away from your desk.

Practise speaking up

Looking after our wellbeing starts with good communication. When those scales tip too far into the depths of work, we tend to bottle up how we’re feeling for fear of looking like we can’t cope or do our jobs properly. It takes courage to speak up, but it’s so important that you do.

No job or workload is more important than your wellbeing. Find someone you trust at work, someone you feel comfortable with and talk to them. Seek advice when you need it. Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence. Change can only take place when you communicate.

Practise healthy habits

Wellbeing starts with the mind, but encompasses the whole body. To feel healthy and happy, try to eat nutritious food and get the right amount of sleep. When things at work are stressful, which they inevitably will be from time to time, you need to rely on these good habits to get you through.

Why not build in a weekly walk with colleagues during a lunch break to get a change of scenery and to keep those wellbeing conversations flowing?

Wellbeing starts with you

Looking after your wellbeing as a teacher should remain a high priority for you as you move through your NQT year. Each suggestion starts with ‘practise’ because you will need to practise, review and adapt all of these ideas on a regular basis.

Make your wellbeing a non-negotiable part of your new career. Own it, fight for it and talk about it. Know your limits and listen to your body. Don’t drown out that voice that suggests you go home; listen to it. Have the courage to say ‘no’ when you have too much on your plate. Take responsibility for your wellbeing and plug yourself in to ‘charge’ as often as you can – your mental health will thank you for it.

Make your to-do list work for you

  • Plan the night before – before you go home for the evening, create your to-do list for the following day.
  • Prioritise your tasks – look at the to-do list and, using an A,B,C,D or a 1,2,3,4 method, put them in order of importance. What is the ‘A’ task that you must do before anything else?
  • In order to do this ‘A’ task, what are the stages you need to go through in order to complete it? Jot those down next to it. Break down big tasks into their component parts.
  • Once you have completed that ‘A’ task, what is the ‘B’ task you need to do? What is the ‘C’ task? Plan those in too.
  • When you come in to work the following day, stick to your plan and complete the ‘A’ task as soon as you can. You’ll feel more in control of your day if you dictate how you use your time, rather than having your time dictated to you.

  • Steph Caswell is an educational consultant and writer. She is the author of three books for NQTs and a regular contributor to Teach Primary magazine. You can connect with Steph on Twitter at @stephcaswell_.

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